Time passed and both the kids started school. The two years difference meant the elder one started primary when the younger started play school. Airforce School in Jalahalli (West) was where he got admission despite our wanting to put him in KV. But since we did not have any serving officers, it became difficult to get in in the two KV’s located in the two defence campuses. So we settled for second best while Den followed Ben to the Church play school.
Den’s first days at school were more traumatic with a bit of tears and disappointment unlike Ben, who did not cry, but watched all the way till he could not see his mother beyond the walls of the compound. A few months later, Denis also joined Ben at the Air Force school. We found ourselves summoned to school in response to an incident there. We reached there and found that Ben had damaged the school property. A piffling of a three year old damaging school property!! Details were asked and we found out that his classmates had hit a ball into an unused building and when Ben went in to collect; his friends bolted him from the outside. He asked them to open it and when they did not budge, he broke the window pane from the inside, which brought the teacher’s into play and we followed. The matter was settled after we protested and paid a king’s ransom of 5000/- to cover expenses. That was still OK by us but when we found Ben addressing his younger brother with “Saala” and before the humble expletive developed into more meaningful ones that involved family members, we decided to change the school.
We found ourselves in front of the gates of a white edifice, with a sand pit, a tiny wooden bridge over a small body of water, lawns, a small activity ground, qualified staff, support staff, a genial headmistress and beyond-our-pay-grade fees (400 to 750 in four years, per month per child excluding transport in 1993–96). Still, we tightened our belts, took out a loan from my friend, Prakash, took out an advance on my tips and juggled some more finances before we made down payment on the admission fees and subsequent monthly fees. We had also moved house by this time from which meant additional deposits and the replacement of my vehicle from the moped to a Honda CD 100 SS bike also meant additional financial requirements. I remember in those days that I was running four or five loans and our commitments meant that we lived off one person’s salary while the other went towards monthly repayments. This situation prevailed for over 15 years. The fact that we managed it well is indicated today on my CIBIL score.
The new school, Vidyasagar Nursery School, was a feeder school to its High School, Vidyaniketan, but that was not in our horizon for now. We wanted to ensure that they got a good foundation in all activities and one factor which we loved was a lady who could only wear a kaftan and a headdress due to a debilitating skin condition. One would see her in a saree a couple of times a year on school functions. She loved children and encouraged the use of the library, which my children devoured with a vengeance. The children loved going to school and made full use of the facilities and even brought the facilities home. To give an example, we would find sand inside the pockets and socks of Denis and could not figure out for the world, how can one play in the pit and get sand in improbable places. Till it was revealed by the Dark Might, much later, that he used to bury his younger brother up to his neck in the pit for him to find his way out! Talk about sibling love!!
Not that Denis was a saint. This time we were summoned through a terse note in the diary to present ourselves with him. Both of us took the parent — teacher meeting seriously, being teachers ourselves and with our upbringing. After a tense wait in the anteroom of the Headmistress, while Denis was being fetched from class, we entered to find a not-so-genial lady in front. She then went on to explain the transgression — Denis had rung the school bell. I tried to reason with her stating the height of the bell from the floor makes it impossible for a child of his stature to ring even if he climbed on a chair or bench. That is when this offence was raised to another level — no pun intended.
Denis had climbed an idol next to the bell to ring it. The idol in question was a beautiful white sculpture of the Indian goddess of learning, Saraswati.
The enormity of the crime made us speechless and our defence was muted at best. The headmiss turned her soft, twinkling eyes on our wrongdoer and asked for an explanation. After realising his folly, he said that he wanted to see the children running out of the classes, thinking that the bell has some magical properties. He was made to write an undertaking (for namesake), appraised him to the consequences of the misdeed and he was sent back to class. We went back to work, sobered and although this was a serious offence, we sent him to his room to think about it, while the adults smiled and saved the story for future gatherings.
A big thank you to his teacher Ms. Beena, who was unable to make it to Ben’s wedding but sent her regards from Mumbai and the dear departed soul of Ms Gita Bhatia, the Headmiss, who was a big influence on their language skills.
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